Ideally, designated players are supposed to be the expensive harbringers of joy, happiness and jersey sales. If you don't understand the designated player rule, its okay, not many people do. You don't have to understand the rule to know that Toronto spent a lot of time this offseason figuring out how to get the best out of their designated player positions after the departure of Jermaine Defoe and the disappointing showing by Gilberto. The current performances by those designated players are becoming a hot topic, especially since these moves were supposed to be the things that launch Toronto into being a top team in the East. Let's do some evaluation.
Michael Bradley: The Secretary of Defense
There are lots of polarizing things going on right now for Toronto FC, but the second most polarizing thing next to what to do about the backline is if Michael Bradley is doing what he needs to be doing. Right now he is the third highest paid player in the MLS and he doesn't really look like he did in Serie A. At Roma, he had a reputation for going out of position to retrieve a ball that most players would rule as lost. He gained the nickname the General because of his knack for commandeering the attack with his incredible eye for passes and his leadership in shutting down plays on defense.
After the most expensive transfer in MLS history, Michael Bradley is starting off what will be his first full season with Toronto on a weird foot. He has no goals or assists in three games and on the pitch, it seems like Greg Vanney is going to be using him as a Secretary of Defense more than a General. So far, he has not had that eye for advancing the play that could really help Toronto right now. Is that because he doesn't have it anymore? Is it because Greg Vanney isn't putting him in the role to do so? It's something that will probably develop though the rest of the season but right now, with fan patience so low, Bradley is going to have to show some Roma form.
Something that is very clear is that Bradley's role to the club is directly tied to the state of the back line. He's been playing deep lately because of the lack of faith in their ability to hold off the opposing attack, I feel like once that situation is remedied, Bradley can have more chances to be the General again. Until then, Bradley really hasn't lived up to the hype he was given regardless of who is really at fault for that happening. If Toronto is going to be that team they seemed like they'd be going into the offseason, most of it relies on the important cog in the system. If Bradley can't do what he's supposed to do, the machine isn't going to be able to do anything either.
Jozy Altidore: The Season Depends on His Confidence.
Right now Altidore is benefiting from the fact that he's already been more effective than he was at Sunderland. The bar was set pretty low for him in the beginning of the season, he basically had to not be Jermain Defoe. Unfortunately for strikers, most of their job depends on getting the ball. With the midfield focusing on being deep, this season, he pretty much has to wait for Sebastian Giovinco to get the ball for anything to happen. The Fire game, his game back from the international break, was worrying because he was playing almost in the midfield. He got only one shot off the whole game, which was both credit to the Fire and also a worrying effort from him.
The frustrating thing about Altidore is that he is the other big cog in the machine that is Toronto FC. If he had any kind of decent service, he would be a lot more useful than he has been. Speaking of his usefulness, I want to call Toronto and tell them to make their motto, "Our Season Depends on Altidore's Confidence". I find that there's no coincidence that Toronto's only win came with a very productive game from Altidore. This season really depends on the kind of performances he has, and I'd even say his performances will be more key than Bradley's. Bradley's performances will determine how the game goes, but Bradley can have a fantastic day and the finishing isn't there to score goals. At the end of the day, every team needs someone to finish chances, put pressure on the goalkeeper and be devastating on set pieces, and Altidore was brought in to be that guy. Everyone has seen what he can do when things work out with the Vancouver Whitecaps game, now he and the team need to channel that success into their other games.
Sebastian Giovinco: The best of the lot
I saved Giovinco for last because honestly he has been the best designated player for Toronto so far. He hasn't had a game without a shot on goal so far, he has two assists and a goal, he is skilled at corners and free kicks, and he creates lots of chances especially on the counterattack. Think of the perfect connection as one that starts with Bradley, opens up Giovinco, who makes a key pass to Altidore. He is the perfect middle man, but right now he gets balls on 2v8 counterattacks or gets a pass with all 11 people on him and he is expected to make something out of it.
If Giovinco wasn't on the team, I really don't know what would be going on for Toronto. He has kept up this team on the offensive side of things in my opinion, and when this team gets going, I don't see anything less than an incredible year out of Giovinco. He's already done a lot with a little, if he has a team that can support his ability to be that final pass or shot, he'll be even more of a nightmare for other teams.
Honorable Mention: Gilberto
Toronto seems to have a problem remembering how many designated players they are allowed: remember Matthias Laba? Toronto realized after they brought in Michael Bradley, Gilberto and Jermain Defoe that they could not have four designated players and traded him out to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Fast forward to this year and Toronto forgot again after acquiring Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore that they were over the designated player cap and needed to get rid of one of them; obviously Gilberto would be the one to go.
He didn't have the best year in Toronto, in 32 appearances he scored seven goals and five assists, disappointing considering the fact that he was the sixth leading scorer in the Brazilian Serie A. After not showing up to pre-training sessions with Toronto and instead training with Vasco da Gama in his home country of Brazil, he was loaned out to Vasco da Gama. The word was that Toronto was trying to hold on to Gilberto while those negotiating the collective bargaining agreement were deciding if there was going to be a fourth designated player spot. There of course wasn't and the trade that seemed to happen with Laba being moved for Gilberto and Gilberto being moved for Sebastian Giovinco was finalized.
There's no way to find out how Gilbertos doing right now since the Brazilian Serie A season doesn't start until May, but it'll be interesting to watch and compare how Giovinco does this season with how Gilberto does.
To End It Like A Fade To Black
The designated players for Toronto could be doing a lot better, but it could be said that they can't do what they were brought in to do because of the problems with defense. You could even say Greg Vanney hasn't been using the tools he's been given in the correct way, especially when referring to Bradley. Fortunately, there's much more time for the designated players to do what they were brought in to do. So get out of your panic rooms for now, things can still go up from here.